The Fall of the House of Hawkins

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South Carolina – 1840
      Joshua Hawkins pushed his driving goggles back on his dirty forehead and unwound his grimy scarf. There really wasn’t much he could do to avoid dust in July in South Carolina, but it surely was a pain in the nether regions nonetheless. Joshua handed his scarf and long duster coat to his valet, Twiggs, whose dark skin was coated with a layer of grime that made his face look powdered except around his goggled eyes. He stared up at the plantation house. The paint on the once pristine white exterior looked like flakes of skin peeling away to reveal dingy gray bones. The autocar wheezed slightly, emitting a puff of steam. Joshua handed his gloves to Twiggs and stowed his goggles in the special case he kept in the glove-box. They were Italian leather and brass, made by one of the best lensmakers back in England—Jasper & Jessups.
       “Twiggs, take the autocar into the old stable–you remember where it is–and see if the regulator has come loose from the steamshaft,” Joshua turned back towards the plantation house.
       “Yessah,” Twiggs said.
      The autocar let out another large puff of steam and a frightful bang as Twiggs put it in gear and Joshua shook his head. Blasted piece of machinery. The dust kept clogging the regulator and the cogs weren’t catching properly due to all the grit. He never had this problem in Charleston, but luckily Twiggs was not only a perfect manservant but an effective machinist. No one he knew had a slave who knew his way around an autocar from cog to chrome like Twiggs.
      The stairs creaked beneath his feet as he walked towards the front door, stepping around a large hole. Joshua shook his head. He pulled a key from his waistcoat pocket and turned it in the lock with difficulty. The stench of dust and decay assailed him as he entered the foyer. No butler stood at the door to offer him a glass of water or bourbon, more was the pity. His boots echoed hollowly in the hallway. Moths had eaten the magnificent rug from Persia to nearly nothing. He could buy another in Charleston now that they came over on the dirigibles. He had never flown in one himself, but they were marvelous things. He preferred his autocar. Another bang echoed through the open door and he winced. When the confounded thing worked.
      He hesitated before opening the door to his father’s study. Even before the house was closed, this room had been shut for years. He glanced at the wall behind his father’s desk. The hair on his scalp prickled even though the painting that had been spattered with blood and brains had long since been removed.
      The plantation was in deep financial trouble and after the autocar accident cost Joshua’s father his leg, Mason Hawkins had never been quite the same. He refused the offer of a new cogwork leg.
       “I’m no piece of machinery made of gears and metal and pistons!” he shouted. “Worse than being a negro—being half a machine.”
      Joshua remembered his father’s face turning purple; the stump of his leg had seemed to twitch in revulsion and indignation at the thought. Two weeks later, a loud bang shattered the still night air. Joshua made it to the study first, keeping his mother and sisters out. They collapsed in the foyer, clutching each other and wailing fit to wake the dead–which, of course, they couldn’t.
      Joshua walked to the bare bookshelves, resolutely ignoring the stain on the floor that lingered even after the house slaves scrubbed it with sand. He knocked his knuckles against the panels until he heard an echo. Sliding the wood aside, he saw the bottle of dusty bourbon just where he remembered. Now, to find a glass.
       “Well, Mr. Hawkins, I declare, I’m sure pleased to see you.”
      It was the last voice he expected to hear. He turned to see a beautiful lady with auburn hair tucked under a burgundy silk top hat. The net veil covered half her face, but he would recognize that voice anywhere. Her voluminous skirts seemed to fill the hall and the brass driving goggles around her neck gleamed in the late afternoon sun that lit the dust motes on fire.
       “Miss Isabella Polk,” he said. “It is still Miss Polk?”
       “It is indeed, as you very well know,” she laughed, pulling the net back to reveal her long-lashed green eyes. “You called on my mother.”
       “I’m afraid you’ve discovered my deception,” he laughed.
       “Share some of your bourbon with me and we’ll call it square,” she said.
       “I do believe that can be arranged,” he offered her his elbow. “I fear there won’t be any ice.”
      They made their way down the hallway which creaked deplorably. To Joshua’s delight, two tumblers sat in the dark recesses of a cabinet. He wiped them out with his handkerchief and splashed some amber liquid into each. With a clink, they toasted one another.
       “Welcome home, Mr. Hawkins,” Isabella said.
      Joshua lifted his glass to drink but cursed suddenly. Bourbon splashed onto the floor and the bottom of Miss Polk’s dress. He sank to the floor in humiliation as his leg gave out. Isabella shrieked and set her glass down on the edge of the table where it toppled to the floor in a spray of tawny liquid and smashed on the floor.
       “Joshua, what ever is the matter?” Isabella cried, white-faced.
      Twiggs appeared and pulled Joshua over to the side of the room to lean against the wall. He unbuckled Joshua’s left boot and rolled up his trouser leg. Isabella gasped, wavering on high-heeled boots. Twiggs pulled a tool from his pocket and began tightening one of the screws in the gleaming apparatus that began where Joshua’s knee used to be. Joshua leaned back, remembering his father’s last words, scrawled on his desk.
       “Better to die as a man than live as a machine.”
      He started to laugh.

From the Smashing Sub-Genres Challenge, where I “rolled” Southern Gothic and Steampunk.

*The southern Gothic style is one that employs the use of macabre, ironic events to examine the values of the American South (wikipedia)

*Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction that typically features steam-powered machinery,especially in a setting inspired by industrialized Western civilization during the 19th century (wikipedia)

photo also courtesy of wikipedia

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26 thoughts on “The Fall of the House of Hawkins

  1. Wow! The prompt was executed extremely well. Maybe you should write a novel on this and explore issues of subhumanism and race. If you’ve seen the movie Prometheus (came out last year 2012), they sort of touch based on it with Michael Fassbender’s character as well as the billionaire (forget his name) who wanted to live forever no matter the cost. He was essentially a “machine” because he was hooked up to so many different mechanisms for life support. To not know an ounce about Steampunk, I’d say you did your homework extremely well.

    Great read :D!

    • Thank you my friend! I really enjoyed writing this especially since both genres were outside my usual comfort zone. Although, I’ve always had a liking for Poe who wrote “southern gothic” type stories (he inspired the title). I was thinking that it could maybe become a longer work since there was a lot about Joshua I thought of but couldn’t fit into the story. I also have several other characters that didn’t make the 1000 word cut. Thanks for reading and if this becomes something longer, I’ll definitely be counting on your critiques! 🙂

  2. Hannah, darling, this is the best piece I’ve read of yours yet. I was utterly sucked in, could practically smell magnolias you never even wrote about in the air, taste the warm bourbon you did write about, and see the pained expression on Joshua’s face as his knee gave out. This was an excellent blend of the two genres, and I enjoyed it ever so much.

  3. Very good story. I’ve never read anything in the southern Gothic style (not that I’m aware of, anyway) so it was a nice introduction to the genre for me. Though I must admit, I heard Isabella’s words in the voice of Rogue from the 90s animated X-Men series. Hope that’s not too far off what you intended. 😉

    • I’ll admit the only Rogue I’m familiar with is the live action one played by Anna Paquin—but if it worked for you, it works for me. Glad you enjoyed it!

  4. I wanted to have my attempt written before I read yours — do you think it would be cowardly to un-publish mine, having now read yours? I liked the idea I came up with, but I’m not sure it played out quite as well as I would have liked. Well, they can’t all be “The Fall of the House of Hawkins” (Which is excellent, really.)

    • You may certainly not un-publish! I just read your marvelous piece and it was quite enjoyable. I really wanted to know more about the world—you did a fantastic job at world building in the background of a very intense plot. I was legitimately worried for Heinrich! Thank you for your words and for reading!

  5. Pingback: Praise From Caesar — The Dilettante Edition, May 19, 2013 | Being the Memoirs of Helena Hann-Basquiat, Dilettante.

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